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‘Why We Kneel, How We Rise’ review: Voice against discrimination

In his prime, he was the quintessential calm before the storm and that inspired umpire Dickie Bird to name him ‘Whispering Death’. Such was the stealth with which cricketer Michael Holding operated as a premier speed merchant from the Caribbean islands.

Following his retirement, the fast bowling legend became a superb commentator, speaking with depth in that droll West Indian accent. He recently quit commentary but at 67, Holding remains a voice of reason. As ever he leans on his dignity. When dinner conversations extended beyond the willow game, he would then say: “Look at what is happening in West Asia.” And when his daughter called from the U.S., he would step aside and become a doting father.

In a world where silence is preferred over forthright expression of thoughts about what affects mankind, Holding refuses to join the politically correct bandwagon but his candour is always steeped in civility. When the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gathered momentum following the murder of George Floyd in the U.S., his neck wedged under policeman Derek Chauvin’s knee, Holding made an emotional speech about what it means to be Black and the discrimination that his race suffers.

Speaking up

The collective grief and anger of an oppressed race had to be vented. Holding’s speeches weren’t mere catharsis, they were building blocks and the product of all that angst and his spirit of enquiry is Why We Kneel, How We Rise, an incredible book that he wrote in association with Ed Hawkins.

This tome straddles sport, sociology, anthropology and global politics, and holds a mirror to humanity, warts and all. Holding categorically states that this isn’t a sports book even if most of his large cast of characters, who speak about racism, are leading athletes. This is a difficult book as it relentlessly opens your mind to the unspeakable horrors that mankind can inflict on fellow human beings, especially Blacks.

‘A book of facts’

This isn’t about Holding standing on a pulpit and acting holier-than-thou. He concedes his privilege of being an elite sportsman. He admits to his indiscretions, especially that wretched act of kicking stumps during a match in New Zealand. But overall, he sticks to the history of the oppressed, prefers truth and sidesteps euphemisms. “I want to be clear: this is not a book of complaints. It is a book of facts. I hope it will enlighten, inspire, surprise, shock, move. And, above all, help to bring about real change,” Holding writes on the fifth page and when you get through the remaining 300, it is remarkable to know that he achieved all that he aspired to do.

Popular culture, be it films or the odd book, has dealt with hidden prejudices. Atticus Finch’s words to his child — “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them” — on the concluding page of Harper Lee’s iconic To Kill a Mocking Bird, reiterates an old truism: most people are good but only if you see them without blinkers. Atticus was reacting to his child’s remarks about their reclusive neighbour Boo Radley being good. Surely, Holding allows us to see beyond simplistic tropes, makes us understand that to judge someone based on his or her skin is cruelty.

Holding speaks to fellow Jamaican Usain Bolt and they dwell upon casual racism, about store attenders following them in European countries. Of course, this was when they were rookies. Obviously, the presumption was that they were Blacks and hence not in a position to afford the goods on display. Nothing was said but the two gents understood the suspicion in the air.

Varied shades

At one point, Naomi Osaka asks Holding: “Why do you think there are detractors against the (BLM) movement? It seems reasonable to me that all we want is equality. I can’t think of any rationale. A lack of education and empathy maybe?” That different shades of racism exist is painfully driven home when Holding mentions how his father was treated as an outcast by his mother’s family, just because he was darker than the rest! And then at varying points, he highlights how colonial history and our own shared knowledge passed across generations tends to emphasise racism without us realising how the poison is being injected.

Time to change

Holding’s gaze is all-encompassing, taking in Africa from where indentured labour was sourced to the colonies, and the American civil-war, and he uses Floyd’s death to stress that racism is still thriving. The ageing speedster makes us even look at Alex Haley’s Roots with fresh eyes. Considered an epochal book on the slave trade, Holding says that “it was a palatable version for the masses”.

Yet, Holding hopes that racism will vanish: “One day, people of colour might have equality.” Later, he says: “I will be long gone by the time we have a genuine level playing field.” He is being practical but this conscience-stirrer of a book will defy time. This book is a classic, one that will make you aware that inequality is a horrific reality and it is time to change that.

Why We Kneel, How We Rise; Michael Holding, Simon & Schuster UK/India, ₹699.

vijayakumar.kc@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 5:28:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/why-we-kneel-how-we-rise-review-voice-against-discrimination/article37823164.ece

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